by LONN PHILLIPS SULLIVAN
It's now been 3 weeks on the dot since LSU football has taken to the field...and although this was already a program taking every possible body blow or suffering through many bizarre changes, absences, police pointing guns at an unarmed freshman receiver (Koy Moore), Covid-caused cancellations of the two biggest games on the schedule (Alabama and Florida) and a rash of NCAA innuendo, but on Monday things went from worse to the worst week in LSU's recent history...
....on top of all the sad, angering news, LSU vs Arkansas was just a few players away from becoming the third postponed game of the season for the Tigers...
For all involved, for those in the Baton Rouge community, this game needed to happen...
There has never been a college football program in history who were forced into accepting a 3 week layoff during the season...and with 2020's surreal backdrop, this current group of players needed this football game.
Football can't cure the allegations against former players and some current / former athletic department officials, but it can help this present group bond through a trying time of unrelenting outside criticism from all sides, a barrage of unstoppable negativity: most fair, some unfair, others caused by themselves, a few completely out of their control...all wrapped in one heaping, flaming pile of uncertainty and fear.
LSU football didn't just need this win, their entire psychological weight was leaning on today's victory.
Coach Orgeron came into the game deploying freshman T.J Finley at quarterback for his 3rd straight start upon Fayetteville's rain-soaked fields:
Now taking his record to 2-1 as he delivered a big victory for the Tigers, LSU edged Arkansas 27-24.... although the score doesn't really capture LSU's dominance through large stretches of the game, history will remember it as being the score the Tigers deserved:
Against a nasty, tough Razorbacks' secondary leading college football in interceptions, Finley sliced and diced Arkansas' corners and safeties over 60 minutes on Saturday, producing 11 of his 15 first down throws during the first half, tossing 7 completions on 3rd down (including Terrace x3, Boutte x2), a gutty 4th down pass through tight coverage to Arik Gilbert, a pair of QB keepers for 3rd and 4th down conversions, 271 total passing yards, 2 TDs, completing 27 of his 42 passes without an interception (first game without a turnover for Finley).
Under Ensminger's methodical play-calling (brilliant once again from the offensive coordinator), Finley used the legs of Ty Davis-Price and the chain-moving heroics of Terrace Marshall, Arik Gilbert, Kayshon Boutte, Jaray Jenkins and even Jontre Kirklin to wear down Arkansas' front seven.
Staying patient on the ground not only kept Finley's pocket cleaner or kept Pelini's defense fresh throughout the game, this method forced Arkansas' depleted defense to chase routes all game, fight off Marshall, McMath, TDP and Gilbert's tough blocks on the edge, wasting most of their energy during a first half in which LSU possessed the ball for all but 8 of the first 30 minutes....
The guy who was Most key to their success and eventual victory?
MVP Ty Davis-Price ran for his second 100 yard game of the season, amassing 24 carries for 104 yards and his 3rd touchdown of the season (he also caught a TD late in the game which was wrongfully taken off the board).
TDP logged 4.3 yards per rush on his way to four 1st down rushes, two 3rd down conversion runs, a 22 yard burst in the 2nd quarter which gave him the starting nod, 3 spin moves executed in-between the tackles, and making 6 total players miss on his way to the top of LSU's running back depth chart.
Ty also showed why he's the complete package when he knocked an Arkansas DE on his ass, launching into him during pass protection and directly freeing up T.J Finley's long range touchdown pass to Racey McMath.
Coach Ed Orgeron is now 26-1 at LSU when the Tigers' offense has a 100 yard rusher and since Ty Davis-Price is automatically rushing for 100+ yards when given the ball more than 11 times this season (rushing for 22+ carries in both games), it's a wonder why LSU hasn't rode Ty's complete backsmanship yet this season.
For some reason, they continue to be entranced by the possibilities of John Emery Jr and while I count myself a major Emery supporter as well, a young man who was laughing on the sidelines during a 48-11 defeat shouldn't be starting the next game.
Against Arkansas he was erratic, fumbling on a key LSU drive; luckily, the referees (while acknowledging the existence of a fumble) couldn't tell who recovered the ball and marked John down where the ball was stripped.
Once Kevin Faulk and Steve Ensminger gave Ty a chance, #3 didn't look back...from his first run I knew he was going to have a great game...I could sense Arkansas' defense gazing at each other with worried glances and gulping throats after Ty battered through them and spun around acrobatically, before a defender grabbed a hold of his jersey.......he still gained 8 yards on the run.
Such was his success, Ensminger fed Ty the ball on five consecutive offensive plays during the first half, punishing and shredding Barry Odom's depleted defense.
Offensive Coordinator Steve Ensminger's offense ran 20 straight plays during the first half; out of 30 minutes, the Tigers had 21 minutes and 56 seconds of possession in the first half...Orgeron's squad forced Odom's defense into 102 tackles just to hold the Tigers to 27 points (compared to LSU's 39):
If Orgeron's Tigers failed to win the game, it may have been the Tigers' most disturbing history-making moment of the year:
By 8:42 left in the 4th quarter, Ensminger's offense had already run 78 offensive plays to Arkansas' 42 (out-possessing the Razorbacks by 22 minutes and 22 seconds)...still, these Tigers only had 20 points to show for it, while being out-gained by 12 yards (370 to 382) and losing 24-20 at that juncture.
Somehow, despite controlling the game, Orgeron's Tigers allowed Arkansas to hang around:
Two crucial holding penalties absolutely killed the offensive momentum (negating nearly 60 yards off the board, one penalty removing a 35 yard Jontre Kirklin catch on 3rd and 6, the first subtracting a smooth Arik Gilbert conversion on 3rd down for nearly 20 yards); There was a drop by Gilbert / missed pass by Finley on an in route (which would've grabbed a further 30 yards), aimless runs by John Emery and a drop by Racey McMath....however, LSU's offense may have ground Arkansas down, but finally it was Pelini's defense which won the game:
Two huge plays from under-fire / injured sophomore cornerback Jay Ward came on the final two Arkansas plays, the first a Blaine Bishop-style dislodging of the football (preventing a 1st down and forcing a field goal attempt to tie the game 27-27) before his outrageous, diving block of A.J Reed's 44 yard field goal sealed the win.
For the first game all season, Pelini's defense routinely shut down Felipe Franks' passing or scrambling lanes on 3rd down, getting off the field for one three and out after another throughout the first half, refusing to allow a single third down conversion to Arkansas' Franks (0-10) and rocked the quarterback with continuous pressures and hits (2 sacks from Andre Anthony both coming on 3rd down, pressures from Cox, Gaye, Ojulari (x2) and Stevens forcing incompletions);
The Tigers' linebackers anticipated the movement, weren't confused by motion trickery every time and took the right outside angles (Damone Clark's replacement Micha Baskerville spilling Trelon Smith wide for the corners and safeties to finish off and holding Smith to 11 rushes for 28 yards);
Also, for the first time since Mississippi State, strong safety leader Jacoby Stevens made big hits, smashed / pressured the quarterback and pulled off key stops.
"I Think Bo Pelini did a great job. Now, we gave up some deep balls, but you know what we lost our two starting cornerbacks, the next guy stood up," Orgeron remarked in his post game conference. "Obviously, you know we got to play better one-on-one coverage. Can't let the ball deep. Thought we stopped the run. Felipe made a big play on that 3rd down, but other than that, I thought our D-line rushed him very well."
This defense still possesses fresh issues, from their injury situation with Derek Stingley Jr down for most of the second half and absences from Hampton, Toles and Eli Ricks pushing the depth to a breaking point. With Cordale Flott struggling to defend the big play once again, LSU's defense gave up 8.4 yards per play while playing well for the most part, QB Felipe Franks inexcusably passing for 339 yards (4 yards above our 335 yards per game average);
Despite holding the ball for nearly triple the amount of time as Arkansas, the Razorbacks out-gained LSU overall, 443 total yards to 419....regardless of these continuing flaws in the big play department, we all witnessed open space improvements in the front seven:
There were all-around better angles taken by (Damone Clark's replacement at LB) Micha Baskerville, Jacoby Stevens and Jabril Cox, improved pursuit by the line, Cox's ruthless interception and return (should've been given as a TD), Flott and Ward recovered after early struggles, both corners battling, hanging in there tight and making plays. There was one moment where Ojulari lost his balance and was juked by Franks for a diving touchdown and Bo Pelini was infuriated.
Pelini launched into his freshman DE, disgusted with how one of the SEC's best defenders was left for dead by Franks. Ojulari took his lumps, Joseph Evans putting his arm around B.J, now stunned into silence. Pelini got down on his knees and began diagramming something on his board, his jaws continuing to lower and extend as he raged on; at one point during the same instance, Pelini began talking to Jabril Cox heavily about an integral element of the prior Razorback's scoring play, Cox looking perturbed and perhaps even questioning Pelini....on the corner of our vision, a previously invested Todd Harris gets up and walks away....
When all was said and done, with each of LSU's starting cornerbacks and a major layer of our safety depth gone for the entire second half (Eli Ricks for a soft targeting call, Stingley's injury on a punt return and Hampton / Toles' pregame absences), the Tigers' defense still won the game:
This was a far better outing than anyone could expect from a team laying dormant for 3 weeks, infected by Covid, doubted by the national and local public, barraged by the media, starting a freshman at quarterback....mentally more than physically, Orgeron's squad needed to persevere today.
It was never going to look 100% pretty against Sam Pittman's team, it was never going to be easy or make our team sexy again....however, just winning was a great tonic for the future....whatever it may hold.
BLACK LIVES MATTER
by LONN PHILLIPS SULLIVAN
OVERALL: TY DAVIS-PRICE
OFFENSE: TY DAVIS-PRICE
DEFENSE: JABRIL COX (1 INT RET FOR 1/2 TD, YES WE GIVE HIM A 1/2 TD)
ANDRE ANTHONY (2 SACKS & 1 PRESSURE / FORCED INCOMP. ON 3RD DOWN)
- We saw Dwight McGlothern come in for his first snaps as a Tiger
- The wicked hit from Eli Ricks was the most rock and roll thing I've seen from this 2020 unit
SHOUTOUTS: Thank you to all who supported our work this week. It was a tough article but the truth needs to be heard. We will continue to cover everything LSU, including the biggest story in our school's recent history. Sexual Assault must be stamped out. Despite a great win from the LSU football team today, we CANNOT forget what these victims went through and the system of silence in place which protected the perpetrators.